Should all 11 and 12 year old girls be vaccinated against sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV)?
Michigan appears poised to be the first state to enact this requirement for all girls entering middle school (though parents could opt out for religious or medical reasons). Many other states are likely to follow suit quickly.
Cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer in the number of diagnoses made each year in women; about a third of the cases are fatal.
The HPV vaccine, approved by the FDA in June 2006 for girls as young as age 9, appears to be virtually 100% effective at preventing the two strains of HPV that account for about 70% of all cervical cancers. It looks like this vaccine could prevent many needless cancer deaths in women every year.
As a pediatrician whose wife has had breast cancer, I am moved by the suffering that might be prevented in my daughter and others in the next generation.
The main argument being raised against making this a standard middle school vaccine is the concern that it might encourage promiscuity among teens.
It seems to me that there are many, many factors that are more likely to promote sex than this shot – and that many of them do not offer such huge potential benefit. It also seems to me that the teenage years may be the most important time to provide this protection. Of course, each family should be allowed to reject the vaccine easily, if they choose. But how wonderful if the shadow of cervical cancer is shifted away from the majority of girls!